Explosionade has Explosions, Lacks Spark

Review of Explosionade on XBLIG: Try
Explosionade is a well made game with obvious high production values – proving indie developers can create games as polished as any mainstream publisher.

This may be the first review I take some heat for.  Mommy’s Best Games is one of the premier XBLIG developers, loved by gamers and developers alike.  This admiration is well deserved too, MBG is a great contributor to the community, pulls games from peer review on the first fail while thanking the developer for catching the problem (pulling a game from review means a developer must wait seven days before resubmitting).  In short, MBG is a role model indie developer.

Explosionade opens with a few slides to set the story.  In a nutshell, I am in the role of Terry Atticus, a second rate soldier who was left behind to guard base while the rest of the army is off to win the war.  Not content to follow orders, Atticus finds a mech in the supply shed, jumps in the pilot seat and descends into the sewers to shoot some snakebats like he did in his “Pink-16 back home”.  If you missed it, that is a Star Wars reference; Explosionade is full of geek reference humor like the mech being named “GRenaDOS”.

The controls are many, but not complex.  The mech can shoot with either the X button or using the right thumb stick.  The A button activates a limited jump jet ability, and the left thumb stick controls the mech’s movement direction.  The Left bumper will lock the mech in place, allowing the left thumb stick to take over aiming control.   The Left trigger activates a shield,  which can be used in combination with a jump to bounce around the level like a pinball.  The right trigger launches a grenade; a quick tap of the right trigger will launch a sticky grenade, while a longer hold will launch a normal grenade.  The right bumper is used to zoom out and show the full level.

Each level in the game is a one room maze with an exit to the next level at the bottom.  Grenades can be used to destroy concrete walls and floors (metal walls and floors cannot be destroyed).  There are gold bars to collect that heal the mech in addition to providing points.  The levels are populated with a wide variety of creatures, from the aforementioned snakebats to sewer grunts and defense turrets.

There are a handful of Boss fights in the game, and they all follow the same formula.  A giant creature floats in the center of the level, casting off bullets and grenades from flailing tentacles.  As the Boss takes damage, it grows larger and a near death Boss will encompass the majority of the level.  Fighting a Boss is straight forward – just shoot it until it dies.

The graphics are well drawn with a “more is more” vibe.  Explosions are everywhere (even in the menus!), bullets coming from all directions, and a feeling of “I’m not really in control here”.  This is not to say the controls felt loose or delayed, quite the opposite the controls are tight and well timed.  The game feels more like a rollercoaster ride than action I’m controlling.  The soundtrack fits well and the sound effects match up perfectly with actions, including a proper death squeal from grunts.

The “more is more” mantra spills over into the game design.  The mech has an excessive number of attack options and levels are filled with more healing gold than I ever needed.  No level required planning or thought to conquer and this led to being bored with the game at the 25 level mark.  Once I reached the 30th level I was actively hoping each level would be the last so I could stop playing.  By the 40th level I was starting to question my sanity.

The game provides a few options to increase difficulty such as increasing the enemy’s damage and speeding up the game play.  There is a two player cooperative mode as well that lets a friend join the game, but this makes the easy levels even less challenging as there are no level adjustments for the firepower increase.  A self implemented achievement system (you won’t get points for your Live gamer score – Microsoft doesn’t allow indies to have official achievements) exists, but this didn’t motivate me to play any more of the game than I would have otherwise.

Explosionade gets a Try from me.  The heavy polish doesn’t make up for mediocre game play.  Limiting the abilities of the mech and working on the level design would be a good step toward creating a challenge for the player.  The good news is the trial mode presents an accurate view of the game play – from the trial someone will know if the game appeals to them.

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